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SimplyFun Blog - How Did Math Get Its Bad Rap?

How Did Math Get Its Bad Rap?

by Patty Pearcy

In a 2010 Change the Equation study, 30% of Americans polled said they would rather clean their bathrooms than do a math problem.

Oh my gosh, seriously? There are a few things in life that are below cleaning my bathroom, but math certainly isn’t one of them. But then I’m one of the lucky ones who embraced the math skills we all come by naturally with a desire to emulate my father who was the family math expert.

But how is it that so many people hate math? I’m sorry to share that I don’t have the answer, but after doing a bit of research here are a few thoughts on why math might be getting a bad rap:

No. 10 It is still ‘cool’ to be innumerate though it is not cool to be illiterate.

No. 9 Math is considered one of the ‘r’s (reading, writing, arithmetic), by definition….BORING.

No. 8 Pythagorean Theorem –Sounds too big to comprehend.

No. 7 I have a calculator and it is ALWAYS right! (Guess no finger slip there.)

No. 6 The person who sits next to me in class can solve the problem faster than me, so why try?

No. 5 There is no wiggle room…. excuses or maybes in math. There is only one answer which doesn’t fit my creative style.

No. 4 I tried to solve the problem once and got the wrong answer, so I must be bad at math.

No. 3 I want to be an entrepreneur making money, not doing boring math problems.

No. 2 Who needs to make change if you have a credit or debit card?

No. 1 My [mom, dad, sister, brother, relative – fill in the blank] is bad at math, so I’m probably bad at math too! It must run in the family.

When you read through these items two main themes emerge.

  • First, that math is often taught in its strictest form and not translated into real world applications that we use every day. How scary is it to think that you might not be able to figure out how much an employer owes you in pay or to know how much your credit card is going to charge in interest. What kind of decisions will you make as a business owner if you don’t understand the financial impact of those decisions?
  • Second, we hear over and over which groups are scoring well in math and which lag behind (think boys versus girls.) We hear our parents; friends and fellow students explain away their own lack of math skills with ‘I’m not good at math’. All of this chatter provides a great set of excuses for when we meet a math concept that is more challenging for us to grasp. Like learning to shoot a basket or kick a soccer ball into the net for a score, math takes practice and not all ‘math moves’ come without some work.

So considering all of this, why should math be a priority? Math and particularly advanced math is the ultimate way to train your brain to think through complex problems. Understanding math helps you organize your thoughts (working through the order of operations r in equations), experience trial and error (solving for unknowns), and to search for a single answer to a problem (if you know the size of two sides of a triangle, you know the third.) All of these have direct application in our daily lives, and more importantly help us build skills that will contribute to success. If illiterate is uncool, let’s all vote for the same fair treatment for math skills. Don’t perpetuate the coolness of being innumerate! Math deserves a better rap!